The highest rated black-and-white comic yet! (Mainly 'cos it's the only one :) System Corruptors #22a [Cover features the corner of a street in Sin.ci.net.ty. The focus in on a fruit shop with the name _The Produce Corner_.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Bee Is For Bacillus There is a fruit shop in Sin.ci.net.ty. While this may not appear to be of immediate importance, there are a few facts that contribute towards making it a very strange shop indeed: 1) The history of the shop stretches back for over 70 years. In all that time, it has not been demolished, become a front for greater evils, nor, in a technical sense, has it ever changed ownership. 2) The owner of the shop is not easily obtained. By backtracking through paying and holding organisations, there is a stage where Company A is owned by Company B, which, in turn is a small enterprise of Company C, and this is owned by Company D. Company D is a branch of Company B. 3) The prices of the fruit are the lowest in the city. Lower, even, than the prices that the fruit was brought at. How it can remain open, and even show a profit, is beyond anyone who has investigated it. 4) Several people, somewhat stereotypically labelled as "homeless", have been seen going into this shop, without any money, yet come out holding bags full of groceries. There is, of course, an easy explanation for all this. _-~-_ A customer walked into _The Produce Corner_. He gazed around the various displays of fruit dispassionately. He took in the trays of lettuce, cabbage, bananas, apples, oranges, durian, avocados, all stuck into a space the size of a normal corner dairy, without the slightest signs of interest. He was here for a more important job. He stared unseeingly at the carrots while he threw quick glances at the sales woman from the corner of his eyes. She looked about 30, wore clothes that had seen better days, had brown hair, and was caked in too much make-up. He noticed her gaze on him and shuffled uncomfortably, trying to appear as any other customer would. He hastily grabbed a plastic bag and filled it with whatever was in front of him, potatoes as it turned out to be. When it was half full, he held the top in one hand, and stuck his other hand into his overcoat pocket. He approached the little sales desk and unconvincingly returned the smile the woman gave him. He held out the potatoes, which the lady took, weighed, and priced. "That'll be two dollars," she said. "Would you like anything else?" "Yeah," he muttered, pulling a .44 magnum out of his pocket. "Gimme all ya cash." The woman stared at the gun wavering in his hand. Sweat started forming on his forehead. Come on, lady, he thought. I haven't got all day. "Is this a hold up?" she inquired. "Yeah, and soon it's gonna be murder." The lady's face brightened up, breaking into a wide smile, totally throwing him. "Oh wow. This is... I haven't been held up for a long time. This takes me back this does..." The robber's eyes glazed in pain. Was this girl for real? "I don't give a fuck. Give me yer money." "Language," she said admonishingly. The robber's face turned red, and this caused him even more embarrassment. "Give me a break, lady," said the robber. "So," the woman said. "What happens now?" Was this a light at the end of an unexpected tunnel? "You give me your money," he said, slowly. "Oh, right." She opened the till and started pulled out handfuls of money, which she placed on the counter. The robber was surprised to see a few hundreds mixed in with the tens and ones. Geez, how successful was this place? He grabbed the money and stuffed it in his pockets, trying to keep the gun aimed at her at the same time. Eventually, it was all stashed in his overcoat. The robber backed away, making for the door, but keeping the woman in sight the whole time. He just didn't trust her, for some reason. She held up his potatoes. "Don't you want these?" she asked. His nerve broke and he turned and fled. _-~-_ Veronica shook her head and sighed to herself as undid the bag of potatoes. Did people never learn? She knew she didn't hear the squelch outside, but knew that it occurred. She walked over to the potato tray and returned the produce, cleaning it as she did so. Then, she walked over to the front door and opened it. On the footstep, as she expected, was a bag contained the money from her till. She picked up the bag and took it inside. It was useful having people watching over the shop. As she put the money back in the till, her memory turned back the clock to her first robbery. _-~-_ 1942: World War II had hit the Loonited States. While some parts did well (mainly, those with super-heroes to attract attention and popularity), some did not. Sin.ci.net.ty, already known as the Centre of Scum, was pretty much ostracised by the Ame.rec.an Government. Anarchy ran unbridled through the streets. It was in the beginning of winter when _The Produce Corner_ was hit. Rioters were running through the main street, but so far the store had been left untouched. The scum knew that the shop now had some powerful backers. The owners had started another business ten years ago, and it was already a backbone to society. Only those that wanted a final visit in the dark of night tried to take that shop on. But, there was one such person. Perhaps they hadn't heard of Nirvana Corporation. Perhaps they had been driven to it by others. Perhaps it was just desperation that caused this person to choose the first shop, this shop, that came across their path. Any way, Carmille Johnson entered the shop, intent on crime. The person serving was a woman with black hair, and just enough make-up to make her look like some one who was normally plain, but was now trying to be attractive. Carmille took out her gun as soon as she entered. She pointed the sawn-off shot gun at the woman and got straight to the point. "Hand over all your cash." She even managed to say it without her teeth chattering from panic. "This isn't very wise," replied the woman behind the counter. "I don't care," said Carmille. "I want the money, and I don't care even if I have to kill you to get it." "If you kill me, you wont be able to take one more step with out dodging a thousand bullets." "You're bluffing." "You're hoping." It was stalemate. Carmille couldn't kill the lady. If she had been able to, she would have by now. She already had done countless times before. The other woman frowned. "Who are you?" Carmille raised her chin in pride. "Carmille Johnson, assassin and now robber of _The Produce Corner_." The lady considered this. "I've heard of you," she finally said. "I'll tell you what. If you can go outside and kill the three men watching this store, I'll give you a job." Carmille couldn't believe her ears. "You're offering me a job? When I have a gun pointed at your head?" "Wouldn't you prefer to have a job? A steady source of income in these hard times?" Carmille had to admit that this was a nice idea. "Go on. Even if you can't kill them, you'll still be able to come back and kill me and take my money anyway. If you still think you can." Carmille considered her options. "What would this job be?" The woman smiled. She had a beautiful smile. "Taking care of a few matters in your own unique way." _-~-_ Ah, Carmille. You turned out to be one of the best. And always so inventive. Veronica's mind dwelled on pleasant thoughts for a while, then turned to other memories. That had taken place ten years after she had started Nirvana Corporation, her first big business. After that had been Majestrial Limited. And then... _-~-_ 1974: Jerry Mark-Smith raised an eyebrow. The meeting was to be held here? In a fruit shop? Some things were beyond belief. Still, this was what he got paid for. He pushed open the door, causing a little bell to tinkle. Inside were two other men in suits, hovering uncomfortably around the shop. It took no detective skills to tell that they were also here to meet the maker of Majestrial Limited, one of the three controlling empires in the business world. His boss had informed Jerry to make sure that whatever happened, he was to come back with the new partnership, or not come back at all. Jerry's success rate was high, but that had only lead to here, and wouldn't help if he failed. A curtain at the back of the shop opened and a woman stepped out. Every inch a Roman goddess, the blonde haired beauty swept into the middle of the room, wearing a short dress that immediately got the attention of the three men. "Gentlemen," she said, her voice tinkling into Jerry's ears. "I'm sure that you've heard that Majestrial Limited has decided to join with another corporation for bigger, better dealings. Indeed, that's why you're here." Jerry could feel himself shaking as she shook his hand. As she turned to another suit, he wiped the fresh sweat off onto his outfit, feeling hot and flustered. Damn, she was beautiful. "I'd like to open bids at three hundred," she said, after finishing her greetings. "Thousand?" asked a suit. "Of course not, silly," she laughed, and Jerry fell in love. "Million." "Who are you?" he breathed. She turned her full gaze to him, and he fell into her eyes. "Me? I'm your new Queen." _-~-_ ...and then Queen Enterprises had been born. It wasn't that easy. She had had Martin, the president of Galloway Incorporated, killed, as well as most of the board, but that was pretty much it. And now, she was the owner of the biggest corporation in Ame.rec.a. Veronica was always amused by villains claiming power over the world, and wanting to rule the universe or whatever. Effectively, she already ran a country. What more did she need? And to think it had all started in this fruit shop. _-~-_ 1921: On the corner of two of the most busy streets in Sin.ci.net.ty, a new shop opened. _The Produce Corner_. Owned and run by a woman, unheard of in this age, but done nevertheless. The woman had had some pretty hefty cash behind her. Some say that it was dirty money, but it had been earned fair and square. True, she had played the stock markets under an assumed name, but she had earned the money. Of course, it helped to know that a war would soon be breaking out in 1914. Veronica had learned this fact at the age of eleven, in 1913, from her boyfriend, Thad Ritchards. Knowing what they both were, she believed him. She also believed him when he said that he had killed the Serbian Ambassador, Archduke Ferdinand. That was when she started playing the stock market, and did so better than most veterans. And that was why she had been able to buy her own shop, in 1921, at the tender age of 19, and was also able to pay the high protection money demanded by most of the mobs in that city. Her place was a useful neutral spot, and visited by many hoodlums who needed a few problems sorted out. In her own way, she started running the mobs, and gaining experience. It was she who shut down the notorious Trenton gang in 1924, the then leading group, and it was she who pulled off the Dagamond heist of 1929, flummoxing law enforcement across the country. She always knew what she wanted to do with the money, and in 1932, achieved her goal. Her first power block, Nirvana Corporation. _-~-_ The good old days, Veronica thought. Not so easy know. You try one drug operation and there was an entire legion of net.heroes on your back. She sighed as she remembered the reason for her current hideout. Still, she had her first warnings a few months ago... _-~-_ She had visited the fruit shop for a few days to take a short vacation. She, with the Phantom Walker's help, dear, sweet Thad, had started a small manufacturing plant that would soon upswing into a much larger project. She needed a break and came here to get it. She had decided to check any recent messages when the door bell tinkled. In came an elderly man. That was funny. She was probably older than him, but she looked only thirty. There were some bonuses to being a needed love. The old man came up to the counter. "I, I, I can't pay ya, but I hear that you sometimes..." his voice trailed away, too full of hope and expected disappointment to continue. "Of course," she said. She picked up two large plastic bags and handed them to the old man. "Take whatever you can carry. No need to worry about the money." She watched as the man took the bags, hardly able to believe his eyes. Her heart melted as she watched the man totter around her shop, picking out ripe tomatoes and juicy mandarins. This was why she kept the shop going. This was why she paid for the goods directly thought her own private organisation, Queen Bee Enterprises (as opposed to the larger, more public Queen Enterprises), even though that meant a great loss. It was through this shop, her first ever business, that she did her only good. Feeding those who didn't even have a place to sleep at night. She just let them take whatever they could carry, and footed the bill happily. It was a kind of magic. After the man went, she entered the back room and booted her terminal. She telnetted to main.qe.org, and checked her mail. There were two messages: From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: email@example.com Subj: Re: Coming your way... ------------------------------------------------------------- Message: Thank you for that information. I will be watching for it. Huh. Typically brief of him, Veronica thought. From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: email@example.com Subj: Get a clone ready. ------------------------------------------------------------- Message: Damn. She recognised the address. It was one the Phantom Walker used. She hated clones being made of her. It always made her feel icky afterward. Oh well, she may as well get on with it. So much for this vacation. _-~-_ And that's what lead to her being here now. She glanced at a recent paper. The headline said: "TRUMP TOWER RUINED". It was an exaggeration as usual. The penthouse suite had been half destroyed, that's all. She'd paid for it to be remade, but it was an annoyance. After her drug operation had been busted, she had left to come straight here. Her clone in Trump Tower could take care of anybody looking around afterwards and, by the headlines in the paper, had done. But, for now, it was best to get out of the picture. She looked up as another customer came in. This time, it was a young woman in a bomber jacket. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Credits: All mine. :)Back to the Index.